All in all, Ellington's concert last Thursday night was a distinct success. The band was rather nervous, the audience applauded the soloists too often, the ushers kept seating people during numbers, and the feature selection, "Black, Brown, and Beige," was as episodic and spotty as reported. Yet, confronted with over two solid (in more than one respect) hours of Ellingtonia, I can only report that Duke lived up to and confirmed all but the very highest expectations. If "B B and B" did not successfully bring jazz to the concert stage, it did not deny the existence of Ellington's genius.
Except for the over-abundant applause, the concert-hall seems to be a perfectly dandy place to hear Ellington's music, and it is a pity that he is so late in arriving there. From now on, Duke should make it a point of giving concerts at least once every two years. The tremendous turn-out in spite of the weather shows that his popularity is not restricted to jazz esoterics and a few classicists who've lost their grip.
The high point of the program, for me, was the duo compositions by Duke's talented protege, Billy Strayhorn, "Dirge" and "Stomp." They are considerably far ahead of anything this young man has done so far, and come close to overshadowing much of Duke's work, on this program at least. The third composition, "Nocturne," was omitted from the Boston concert, but if it's anywhere near as good as the others, it should be reinstated immediately.
The remainder of the previously unheard compositions, except for "B B and B," consisted of "Going Up" from his new picture, "Cabin in the Sky," and a group of recorded, but as yet unreleased numbers. The first seemed rather senseless and blatant, but as is typical with Ellington, this impression will probably wear off on further hearings. The others were impressive, especially an unnamed blues.
Most of the well-known compositions were grouped so as to feature the soloists in the orchestra. But as Duke was so careful to avoid having two people playing the same style on the same instrument, there was no real opportunity to appraise Ray Nance's or newcomer Harold Baker's hot trumpet work. Which is just as well, as Rex Stewart stopped the show with his famous solo on "Boy Meets Horn." Rex did the best soloing of the evening, hitting new lows, in notes, that is. Nance played the violin instead, on "Bakiff," and came very close to persuading me that a violin can play jazz. With Nance and Juan Tizol's trombone, "Bakiff" was infinitely more successful than on records.
The remainder of the program will be discussed as fully as possible next week. Meantime grab your calendar and mark the week starting February 25 with a red pencil. Duke is returning to the Keith Boston then.